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Publisher: Bluejack

April, 2005 : Editorial:

The Critical I

self-bias in review and analysis

Review, critique, opinion, literary analysis—what’s the difference and who cares, it could be asked. The question itself does a good job of pointing out part of the problem. One of those things, to quote a Sesame Street skit from my youth, is not like the others; one of those things does not belong. Opinions are fine things to have, in whatever style or quantity they come. But despite a disturbing trend in some quarters to treat them otherwise, opinions are not the same as facts. They can not and should not carry the same weight.

It can admittedly be difficult on occasion to sort out the reasons why this is so. Certainly a strong opinion is probably at the root of most critical analysis, as what motivated the examination in the first place. But opinions are free from the necessity of being fact-based, whereas review and critique are not. Opinions are tricky as well, because they often feel so right. They may very well be so—fact-based opinions are part of the species—but the problem arises when they are not, and yet are treated as though they are.

This is what leads to the “self-bias” of the title. “Self-knowledge is the key” can be seen as the flip side of “write what you know.” There needs to be a reality check, though, if you are going to present your thoughts as anything describing the factual world. Review is essentially summary colored by preference. Critique implies some comparison with similar or different items of kind. Literary analysis should dig even deeper, examining the context of the piece in addition to the summary and comparison mentioned. Any of these can be illustrated by opinion, but they are failing to meet the requirements of intellectual rigor should they rely primarily on anecdotal evidence.

It is impossible to be completely unbiased, true, despite the degree of rigor. As I said, the opinion often resides at the foundation of the theory. The remedy is to be up-front and clear about known biases, or any suspected others. This gives the reader some means of measurement linking what is being presented as fact with the concrete world. It has the side benefit of providing a tone of honesty by virtue of its openness, as well.

Then again, why take my word for it? An editorial is, after all, only an opinion.

Copyright © 2005, Joy Ralph. All Rights Reserved.

About Joy Ralph

"Science Fiction fan" was the first group label I ever consciously associated with myself growing up, probably because I've always been drawn to the potential in things. Other hats I wear include anthropologist, computer geek, ailurophile, coffee fiend, and walking dictionary.


Apr 4, 21:45 by Bluejack

All comments on the April issue and/or Joy's editorial welcome. This is the place.

(Joy's editorial can be found here.)
Apr 5, 01:34 by susie hawes
Nice! It points out the elements needed for a good analysis.
Apr 5, 16:58 by Walt Gottesman
Wonderful definitions of review, critique and literary analysis in the third paragraph. Nothing middling about this opinion piece. Thanks Joy!
May 2, 12:00 by michaelmaelstrom

It is, to Opine, und so we submit, mein:

At first we expostulated to mein self, "self, this reads like some pedantic school marm trying to dumb down its lesson for the proletariat" [breath] "slash, look how street-hip I am, I can stream-think"

to which (mein) primary reaction is oft, "Yes Dear, good for you, but can you think-think?"

(read: when people dumb-down their speak the first time you encounter them, it can be discombobulating. It generally leaves one with the impression that they really are dunderheaded, or alternatively, that they believe they're more intelligent than they are)

..until (if ever) we get to the intellectual meat.

Thankfully, like The Desert Door to The Electric Monk (all praise Douglas Adams)..The Meat Is There. und So we forgive you your stylings.

All this to say, well said, it was a Ralph Joy reading your well-structured conclusion.

Looks like another stimulating issue of IRoSF to sink my things into.

Many Thanks for an, if not, the, SF Pub worth reading, contemplating und inhaling.

Michael Xavier Maelstrom
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Earth, Sometimes.

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